Anthropology Conservation Laboratory
Focus on Leadership (Part II)

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William H. Egberts, Chief Preparator, Anthropological Laboratory (1913-1939)


William H. Egberts served as Preparator for the Anthropological Laboratory for 26 years from 1913 to 1939. Little is known of his early life but we know from sketchy obituaries that he was born in Essens, Germany in 1868 and came to the United States when he was 14 years old. In 1910 he moved from Baltimore, MD to Washington, D.C. where he worked 3 years as a sculptor prior to his hire at the National Museum as Preparator. It was his skill as a sculptor that appears to have secured his employment at the Museum.

William Egberts seems to have been the first Preparator assigned to the Anthropological Laboratory who wrote detailed annual reports for the Head Curator of the Department of Anthropology that record his extensive work with the anthropology collections. Each begins "I beg to submit a report of the following activities in the Anthropological Laboratory during the year ending 19XX."  It is from these early records that we have been able to piece together his career at the Museum. Departmental collections contained a broader breadth of collections during his tenure than today, including divisions of Ethnology, American Archeology, Old World Archeology, Physical Anthropology, Mechanical Technology, History, Period Costumes, Art Textiles, Graphic Arts as well as sections of Ceramics, Musical Instruments, Photography, and Medicine. As the Smithsonian collections grew, various of the collections were split out into different Smithsonian museums, such as the National Collection of Fine Arts (renamed the National Museum of American Art) and the National Museum of History and Technology (renamed the National Museum of American History). But when one considers the breadth of the collections William Egberts was responsible for, one is struck by his versatility as a craftsman in his efforts at collections care and preservation. Throughout his tenure, it appears he had a variety of assistants, references being made to the 'laboratory force' in his annual reports, which included Frank Kotrba, Edgar Porter, as well as divisional Preparators such as Francis Allen (with the Division of Ethnology), and Miss Barbara Bartlett (with the Division of Mechanical Technology) all of whom served in this capacity for an unknown period of time. William Bray joined Egberts in the Anthropological Laboratory in 1926 and worked as his assistant until Egberts' retirement.

In 1913, the first year of William Egberts' tenure with the National Museum (now the National Museum of Natural History), the Museum was still rather new, having just been completed in 1910. As a result, exhibits preparation was the order of the day. Fabrication of full size manikin figures in diorama settings became his hallmark, having had the fortune to overlap tenure with famed sculptors, U. S. J. Dunbar, Sr. and Jr., both masters at the craft. He spent much of his career making and altering these figures as exhibit displays changed. Such manikin groupings were popular and in 1915 he traveled to San Diego to assist with the installation of several groups at the Panama-Pacific Exposition, an activity he would do several times throughout his career. The process of preparing these figures was even filmed for use at the Exposition. By 1916 his duties included modeling and installing the now famed period costume figures, remodeling the figures of First Ladies Mrs. James Monroe and Mrs. Martin Van Buren. Over time his work of modeling, casting and installing the First Lady figures would include Mrs. Andrew Jackson, Mrs. Abraham Lincoln, Mrs. Calvin Coolidge, and Mrs. Herbert Hoover among others.

Under the direction of William Egberts, the Anthropological Laboratory pursued a wide range of other activities including molding and casting of numerous object replicas, making life masks of individuals, bronzing numerous busts, cleaning and varnishing oil paintings, restoring and gilding frames, repairing and restoring countless ceramic vessels in addition to repairing a wide variety of objects such as birch bark canoes and Chinese lanterns. Egberts would also encounter unusual requests. Over several years he was asked to make plaster impressions of a keystone in one of the arches of the Rotunda [in the Museum] to determine the amount of the settlement of the arch. Also on several occasions he was asked by the Department of Geology to mold and cast meteors. While fabrication of manikin figures and molding and casting replicas were his forte, it is clear that Egberts was a gifted Preparator. In the 1921-1922 Department Annual Report,  acting Head Curator, Walter Hough, wrote "The most valuable adjunct of the Department of Anthropology is the laboratory. Its services are in constant demand by the divisions and by other departments. All the working time was occupied [during the year] in the varied work of modeling, making molds, casting, bronzing, painting, gilding, and making repairs and restorations requiring the best skill."

In 1930 William Egberts was promoted from Preparator to Chief Preparator (SP-7). During the ensuing years it appeared that Egberts had become a bit of a Washington celebrity as his work was frequently featured in the Federal Diary column of the Washington Post. His work with the First Lady's figures was a popular focus. One such article that appeared in the Washington Post, July 5, 1931, entitled "One Face for 33 White House Matrons" featured Egberts: 

It was the magical fingers of William H. Egberts, anthropologist of the National Museum, a wizard of the art of plastic modeling, which gave the long line of gracious White House chatelaines their distinctive traits of appearance in life although they all have the same face. In his atelier in the basement of the new National Museum this artist, whose duty is to fit figures, faces and postures to the gowns of the First Ladies in this unique collection, studies his subjects either from portraits or where possible from the living women. Then he measures and drapes and redrapes his gowns, until he has not only figures which the gowns fit but figures and, by an arrangement of the hair, faces portraying vividly the distinguished ladies, who once wore these costumes in the White House. For all these figures he takes as his basic theme the marble bust of Cordelia by P. F. Connelly, made in 1865 and part of the collection in the National Gallery of Art in the new National Museum. But the head can not always be the same in size nor can it be placed upon the neck in exactly the same posture. The size and posture is taken from the living models or from measurements. But this is not enough for the petite women of the White House and the tall and thin ones and those large of frame would not have the same cheeks and throats as the others. So while the forehead, the nose, the mouth and the chin remain the same as they come from the cast of the head of the goddess a little is taken from the cheeks or added to them and the throat is made to conform to the figure into which the gown must fit. Eyes, too, must be carefully created to suit the size of the woman whose gown is to be worn by the figure. And what a difference the size and shape and position of eyes do make. It is probably for this reason than many visitors look askance when told that the faces on the figures are all the same.

On December 10, 1932 Egberts was again featured in the Washington Post Federal Diary column, complete with photograph, for his restoration work on Egyptian mummy coffins.

William Egberts' work with the anthropology collections was prolific. It is estimated that thousands of specimens were either cast by him or treated in some way. In 1931 he prepared a paper entitled, "The Process of Making Facial Masks and Casts of the Body as Practiced by the Anthropological Laboratory of the United States National Museum," a process he was to perfect. During the last years of his career he would report in his annual reports that particular specimens were treated with 'preservatives' and in 1936 he reports removing rust and treating two steel axes to prevent further deterioration. One gets the sense that he was on the very cusp of the transition from museum preparation to conservation, a profession that would not come to fruition for another 30 years. His annual reports do not record specific treatments for individual objects but even knowing the types of treatments that were carried out on our collections gives us useful clues in the absence of formal treatment reports.

Because of his skilled and prolific service, in 1938 at the age of 70 Egberts was permitted by Executive Order by President Roosevelt to work one year past the mandatory retirement age.  On October 1, 1939 William H. Egberts retired after working 26 years in the Anthropological Laboratory. He passed away on June 19, 1959 at the age of 90.

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Andreas Joseph Andrews, Chief Preparator, Anthropological Laboratory (1939-1973]

Andreas Joseph Andrews, known as Joe by his friends and colleagues, overlapped tenure with William Egberts, serving as his assistant for two years. Upon Egberts' retirement in 1939 Joe Andrews was promoted to Chief Preparator for the Anthropological Laboratory, remaining in the position until his retirement.

Mr. Andrews, whose creative hands shaped a number of the Institution's exhibits, including the manikins for some of the famous First Ladies gowns in the National Museum of American History and the Indian dioramas in National Museum of Natural History, retired in 1973 after 37 years at the Smithsonian. He spent most of his time in the Department of Anthropology Conservation Laboratory, making casts of and meticulously restoring broken pottery and other anthropological specimens — the latter a challenge that he likened to solving fiendishly difficult Chinese puzzles. On the bookcase next to his desk were cast bronzes of wild animals that were evidence of his skill as a sculptor as well as mementos of a museum career that stretched back to 1926. In that year, 22 years old, having graduated from Cooper Union and fresh out of New York City's Arts Students league, he got a job at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. He had enjoyed sculpting animals since he was a boy, and he was immensely pleased when his first assignment at the museum was to help the noted taxidermists, Louis Jonas and Robert Rockwell, construct the life-like animals for the habitat groups in the museum's Indian and African Halls.

A series of plaque reliefs on human anatomy that he subsequently created for the American Museum's Hall of Comparative Anatomy attracted the attention of Dr. Frank Setzler, head curator of the SI's Department of Anthropology and got him his job at the Smithsonian in 1937. By that time Mr. Andrews had left the American Museum and was making a living through sculpture commissions and diorama exhibit construction. He had built historical dioramas for the National Park Service and the New York World's Fair.

Mr. Andrews remembered that when he came to the National Museum in 1937, the exhibits were in woeful condition, "50 years behind the times."  In those days there was no exhibits staff within the museum and as a  result the talents of the Department of Anthropology Conservation Laboratory staff were enlisted. Mr. Andrews not only was given important assignments by the scientific staff, such as sculpting a series of Indian portrait busts from life masks for Dr. Ales Hrdlicka, but his abilities in animal and human anatomical sculpture and diorama model making were frequently called upon for exhibits work.

Highlights for Mr. Andrews were the manikins he sculpted for the period costume figures of Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt, Mrs. Harry Truman, and Mrs. Dwight Eisenhower. But he said that the exhibit he helped create that he was fondest of is the diorama in NMNH of a Blackfoot Indian Buffalo Drive. "The sill below the glass is worn where kids have leaned over to look at it, so you know that they like the story it tells," he said. [This diorama is still on exhibit at the National Museum of Natural History].

—  All of the above text was excerpted from The Smithsonian Torch, Smithsonian Office of Public Affairs, March 1974 upon Mr. Andrews' retirement. — 

Archival research has uncovered that the 37 year career of Joe Andrews was unparalleled. No one before him or after him has had as large an impact on the preservation of the Department of Anthropology collections. He was a master at his craft and his talents seemed boundless. Such was recorded in a memo from F. M. Setzler, Head Curator for the Department of Anthropology, to J. B. Newman (Chief, Smithsonian Personnel Office) on July 31, 1957 in which he writes:

The Chief Exhibits Preparator in the Anthropological Laboratory, Mr. Andreas J. Andrews, is a sculptor and artist.... His ability to sculpture from the original is absolutely essential and so unique as to comprise the only man in this country who produces, through all the complex procedures, the heads and torso of the wives of the Presidents of the United States.... One of Mr. Andrews' greatest assets is his versatility ability, experience and proficiency to perform all of these specialized tasks....

The anthropological laboratory which he supervises must be prepared to complete, in addition to the highly specialized tasks above described, a wide variety of laboratory assignments:

1) the cleaning, relining and repair of a collection of over 500 paintings of American Indians, 2) the repair and preservation of a very wide variety of anthropological objects, ranging from prehistoric times to the present, made from pottery, stone, iron, bronze, copper, glass, hair, horn, ivory, shell, silver, gold, porcelain, cloth, baleen, fur and wood. Each requires special handling and chemical treatment [and] experimenting to discover or modify processes which will work most effectively, 3) the making of endocranial casts from human skulls in plaster, 4) the making of complex piece molds of archeological objects, painting these replicas the same color as the originals, for exchanges with museums throughout the world. Maintaining the hundreds of plaster of Paris replicas of prehistoric and classical archeological objects on public exhibition, 5) the making of scientifically accurate dioramas depicting diagnostic phases of ethnological and archeological cultures.

... Mr. Andrews cooperates, when time permits, in making complex molds and casts for the Department of Geology, Department of History and the National Collection of Fine Arts.

It is my candid opinion that Mr. Andrews, by his ability, saved the Institution thousands of dollars in performing all of the complex processes required in an anthropological laboratory. Moreover, the Institution would find it difficult to replace a man with his talents.

Like William Egberts before him, Joe Andrews submitted annual reports that document the incredibly wide variety of museum objects and activities he devoted his skills to. As the reports evolve one is struck by the unwitting but unmistakable transition that he made from the field of museum preparation to the newly emerging field of art conservation. He had the good fortune to have overlapped tenure with William Egberts whose major responsibilities focused on typical preparation activities including the creation and installation of a wide variety of exhibitions in the museum as well as some limited restoration of objects. At the end of his career Joe Andrews would overlap tenure with Bethune Gibson and Carolyn Rose, two conservators who transitioned his lab (known first as the Anthropological Laboratory and later in 1964 as the Department of Anthropology Conservation and Restoration Laboratory) to a recognized conservation laboratory. While Joe Andrews brought artistic and sculpting skills that served him well for carrying out his casting and exhibition installation responsibilities (museum preparation activities), he also developed an interest in more scientific approaches to collections treatment. This is documented in another memo on August 18, 1958 from F. M. Setzler to the Smithsonian Personnel Office entitled "Research by A. J. Andrews":

One of the important phases of work in the anthropological laboratory consists of the repair and preservation of a wide variety of anthropological objects. In the process of repairing, but more especially preservation, Mr. Andrews is required to conduct library research to establish methods as well as original experimental research. Within the past 18 months he perfected and described a revised procedure for removing rust from iron objects excavated from colonial sites. Moreover, he perfected a method for preserving the surface of these objects after they have been cleaned. At the present time he is doing research in connection with the preservation of thousands of old, dry and brittle baskets from primitive tribes throughout the world.

Joe Andrews' experimental work with iron objects culminated in an article entitled "Restoring Iron and Metal Objects Corroded by Oxidation." Earlier, in 1956, Joe Andrews had collaborated with Rutherford Gettens, Head Curator, Freer Gallery Laboratory to study tarnish preventive qualities of various coatings for silver objects. The coatings studied were Egyptian varnish, Alvar (poly vinyl acetal) lacquer and an Acryloid (ethyl methacrylate copolymer) coating.

While many of the details of Joe Andrews' experiments and treatments do not exist beyond what is described in his annual reports (maybe yet to be uncovered with more archival research), the ACL recently discovered in the lab his signed and well-worn copy of the National Park Service Field Manual for Museums (1941). The chapter on technical methods will lend valuable insight into the treatment of thousands of objects that otherwise have no written documentation, a standard practice that was instituted in the laboratory in the mid 1960s.

Joe Andrews' final entry in his last annual report reads: "The author of this report, having started work in the Laboratory on May 14, 1937, and after having completed approximately 37 years of a most satisfying and rewarding association, will retire on the 31st of December, 1973."  He passed away on December 26, 1992 at the age of 88.

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Bethune Gibson, Head, Anthropology Conservation Laboratory (1965-1977).

Bethune Gibson, remembered fondly as Beth by her friends and coworkers, is considered an early pioneer in the field of ethnographic and archeological conservation.

Beth's entrance into the field of conservation was by happy coincidence. She had received her B.A. in Anthropology (Archeology) in 1937 from the University of Chicago and during 1939-1940 pursued graduate studies in Anthropology and Art at the University of California, Berkeley. Working on an excavation in southern Illinois she met and subsequently married Gordon Gibson. Gordon and Beth took their two young children to Africa on several occasions while Gordon pursued his research as a social anthropologist, studying both the Herero of Botswana and Himba of Namibia. During these periods they collected numerous artifacts that would later become part of the Smithsonian collections.

When her husband was hired as the African ethnologist at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History, Office of Anthropology, the Gibsons moved to Washington, D.C. In 1964 Gordon asked Beth to help prepare African objects for the new Hall of Cultures of Africa at Natural History. Beth's fine hand skills, combined with a familiarity with African artifacts, enabled her to successfully prepare artifacts, often in poor condition, for this exhibition. Initially Beth worked as a private practitioner on these first objects and later she joined the "attic conservation laboratory" previously set up by Charles Olin to address the departmental exhibition conservation needs. Beth worked along side other contractors (graduate students from George Washington University) for one year in this laboratory setting. During this time Charles Olin, who had been hired by the Smithsonian to establish the Conservation Research Laboratory (later known as the Conservation Analytical Laboratory), took up temporary residence in the Department of Anthropology while awaiting construction of his new laboratory in the Museum of History and Technology. This association would significantly change the course of preservation understanding for the Department. Olin brought a new approach to the treatment of objects. He introduced the principal of reversibility of treatments, the premise that objects should be carefully analyzed before treatment, and most importantly the concept of treatment documentation. Olin designed the first treatment documentation format, entitled "Requisition for Services of Analytical Laboratory", that remained in use (although changed somewhat over time) for nearly 20 years in the Department of Anthropology.

In 1965 the Office of Anthropology (currently referred to as the Department of Anthropology) hired Beth as a conservation technician expanding the existing Anthropological Laboratory to include a conservation section. It was renamed the Anthropology Conservation and Restoration Laboratory, merging Joe Andrews' preparatory and restoration work with Beth's conservation experience. When Joe Andrews retired in 1973 the laboratory was renamed again — Anthropology Conservation Laboratory (ACL). Initially Beth worked as a conservation technician in the laboratory but was promoted over time as her experience base grew, ultimately assuming the title of Head of Conservation. From the beginning, Beth worked tirelessly to improve the condition of the anthropological collections in the Museum of Natural History. The departmental annual report for 1965 records that 1313 objects were cleaned and given conservation treatment in her fledgling laboratory. Beth, as head conservator, along with her staff, volunteers and students, conserved nearly 18,000 objects during her 12 year tenure at the museum.

Beth is probably best known for her pioneering work in the use of the airbrasive equipment for cleaning materials. She recognized that it enabled the conservator to remove surface corrosion or soil from artifacts using fine particulate powders discharged at high pressure. Beth procured an airbrasive unit for the ACL and became a leading proponent of its use (see "The Use of the Airbrasive Process for Cleaning Ethnological Materials," Studies in Conservation, Vol. 14, No. 4, 1969). This method was particularly effective for American Indian buckskin garments, where wet cleaning was not possible; it also was used for beadwork and baskets. (This cleaning practice is no longer in general use in conservation laboratories and has been replaced with other cleaning methods.)

Teaching anthropological conservation was another of Beth's contributions to the field of conservation and she lectured widely during the last years of her career. She realized that the activities of the ACL could be expanded by training volunteers and interns and could simultaneously serve to train professional conservators. Over the years she accepted countless numbers of both, and over time she devoted her training to local university students, and later more specifically to The George Washington University students. One such student, Carolyn Rose, became associated with the ACL first as a volunteer, then intern, and was ultimately hired as a conservation technician in 1972. Beth and Carolyn continued to pursue training of anthropological conservators, forging a collaborative conservation program with The George Washington University and the ACL, officially coming into existence in January 1974.

In 1977, Beth retired from the Smithsonian at which time she received an award for her outstanding service to the Department of Anthropology as supervisor of the Conservation Laboratory. During her 12-year career the ACL achieved both national and international recognition for setting standards for the practice of anthropological conservation.

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Carolyn L. Rose, Head, Anthropology Conservation Laboratory (1977-1988)

Like Beth, Carolyn Rose's entrance into the field of conservation also seemed by happy coincidence. She received her B. A. in Art History with a minor in pre-medical sciences (biology and chemistry) in 1971 from Sweet Briar College. During the summers of 1970 and 1971 she participated in internships under Robert Organ, then director of the Conservation Analytical Laboratory. It was during this time that she met Beth, and her career path was established. A Smithsonian employee since 1971, Carolyn began working as a conservation technician assisting Beth Gibson, then head of the laboratory. In 1975 she advanced to conservator status.

When Beth retired in 1977 Carolyn was promoted to head of the Anthropology Conservation Laboratory, a position she held until 1988. Under her direction the Anthropology Conservation Laboratory continued to flourish. Countless numbers of interns, students and other professionals were associated with the lab. Standard conservation procedures were instituted not only for the Department of Anthropology but also, for the first time, for the Museum of Natural History. With great vision, Carolyn also was instrumental in the design and planning of the off-site conservation lab at the Museum Support Center, where most of the departmental conservation activities occur today.

In 1974, Carolyn received her Masters degree from the graduate training program in ethnographic and archaeological conservation at The George Washington University, a program she helped create and which she later directed. She was the graduate thesis advisor for more than 30 of the program's students, and supervised many other students from conservation training programs at other universities. Later she became an adjunct associate professor in anthropology and art at The George Washington University, where she taught courses in preventive conservation and museology for many years.

In 1988 Carolyn became head of the Department of Anthropology's Division of Publications, Education, and Outreach. Because of her proven administrative abilities she was appointed deputy chair in 1993 as well as acting program manager of the Handbook of North American Indians. In 1999, Carolyn became chairman of the Department of Anthropology and remained in that position until March 31, 2002, when she stepped down because of  illness.

Nationally and internationally recognized in the field of ethnographic conservation, Carolyn received the 1992 Rutherford John Gettens Merit Award for outstanding contributions to the American Institute for Conservation (AIC); a Medal of Honor presented by S.A.R. Don Carlos de Borbon, Duke of Calabria, in Madrid, Spain, in recognition of her international leadership in conservation education; the American Institute of Conservation/University Products Award for distinguished achievement; and the National Park Service Award for Generous Service and Dedication to the Development of the Preservation Training and Technology Board. The Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections' annual award, of which Carolyn was the first recipient, has been renamed in her honor. In 2002, she received the President's Medal from The George Washington University.

Carolyn authored and edited numerous publications, primarily focusing on the care of ethnographic and natural history collections. She helped develop new national preservation programs for the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Institute for Museum and Library Services. As chairman of the National Institute of Conservation, she served as principal investigator for research programs funded by the Getty Conservation Institute, J. Paul Getty Trust, the Mellon Foundation, the Institute of Museum Services, and the National Science Foundation. She helped to establish a training program for conservators in Argentina and a Latin American Scholarship Program. Carolyn served as president of the Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections, chairman of the board of directors of the National Institute for Conservation, president of the Washington Conservation Guild, and was a founding member of the board of directors of the World Council for Collection Resources.

While prominent in the field of conservation, Carolyn was also beloved by her colleagues in the Department of Anthropology. To honor her tremendous contributions, the department recently dedicated the Carolyn L. Rose Seminar Room, a space she envisioned and designed. This is a fitting memorial to Carolyn, who as chairman strived to create an atmosphere of cooperation and collegial professional exchange within the department. She passed away on August 29, 2002, at the age of 53, after a thirteen-year battle with ovarian cancer.

Publication date: September 8, 2004

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